There isn't anything new in what I have to say, but I do see life from an unique perspective. As my body is shutting down, my soul is opening up to a greater and greater relationship with Christ. I am sharing the things I learn as I go through my trials so that those who read what I write will be encouraged in their own walks by how gracious God has been to me in mine. Ask me questiions, dispute my views and most of all pray for me.
How Real Is Your Christianity? Don't hesitate. Come on in. Feel the refreshing and restoring power of God's words to us in Paul's message to the Colossian Church in Chapter 1, verses 1-8.-8
The people in Colosse were hearing about all the ideas and experiences of the people around them and were wondering if maybe they were missing something. Maybe they needed more than their faith in Christ. These questions were among those Epaphras shared with Paul while Paul was imprisoned. It should not surprise us then that Paul begins his letter quickly affirming the genuineness of Colossian faith.Col 1:3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, Col 1:4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— Col 1:5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel. (Colossians 1:3-5)
Paul focuses on the characteristics of a follower of Christ in this opening statement. A genuine follower of Christ is characterized by faith in Jesus Christ, love for the brethren and hope of eternal life. Paul, Peter, James and John all use this same simple shorthand to describe the new nature of those in Jesus. As I tried to read through Colossians, I found myself stuck on this passage. Look again at how we are described. Do you always feel these things as Paul describes them?Faith in Christ Jesus
We hear lots of people today who tell us they have faith. Others tell us that faith is very important in their lives. We are living in a day when faith is quite popular. However, we can’t assume that everyone is using the term the same way we are.
First, we must always ask, "What is the object of your faith?"
Faith in and of itself has no intrinsic value. Faith has no power. It is the object of your faith that is significant. You see, many people have faith, but the object of their faith is: experience, reincarnation, theology or philosophical systems, their own goodness, the free market system, the goodness of men or even religion or the church. The true believer has faith in Christ Jesus not in the things of this world. How quick we are to forget this at times. We are prone to quickly revert to our old approach to faith, to trust in our own efforts. Christian confidence and faith is not in anything we have done or can do. Our confidence is in Jesus Christ: in His sacrificial death, victorious resurrection and His present intercession on our behalf.
This leads us to a second question: What does it mean to have "faith"?
Some would say that having faith is to feel good about something. But when the Bible talks about faith in Christ, it means to believe Him, depend on Him, follow Him. It means to believe what He says about God, about salvation, about us. To have faith in Christ is to "bet our life on Him.” Having faith in Christ means believing that His death really was the payment for our sin, just as He said it as. It means believing that He loves us even when we feel unlovable.
The third question follows, where does this faith come from? Notice something interesting from this text. The faith Paul talks of here is not the means to salvation; it is the result of our salvation. Paul tells us that this faith "springs from the hope that is stored up for you in Heaven." Faith doesn't produce the hope it comes from the hope. Now this is different from the way we usually talk. We usually make it seem that we have to come up with faith in order to be saved. Paul says this faith is evidence that we are saved. Paul wrote the Ephesians:Eph 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— Eph 2:9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Faith is something God creates in us. He produces faith in us. Now, why is this important? Because so many try to will themselves to believe. We try to create faith. What we need to understand is that faith does not come from looking inward. It comes from looking at God. Faith is the fruit of seeking Him. So if you want to have more faith, don't read more books on faith, spend more time looking at and seeking God.
This is a good time to make this very practical. We simply need to ask ourselves: "Where are we placing our faith?" Many people talk religion. But the crucial question is this: Who or What do you really trust? Be honest with yourself. Are you confident because you are talented? Decent? Competent? Well-respected? Are you trusting your financial acumen or your determined spirit to get you ahead in life? When we do these things we have gone back to building our houses on the sand.Love for all the brethren
We must always look out for those who talk Christianity but don't walk it. A loveless goodness, apologetics without passion, a profession without practice, all make for a questionable faith.
The Apostle John wrote:This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John. 3:16-18)
James wrote, "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (2:17)
James is not arguing that we have to be good in order to get into heaven; he is arguing that anyone who has truly been reborn by God's Spirit acts differently. Faith is not passive, but active. The Colossians showed the reality of their faith because they not only professed faith, they reflected love.
But what does it mean to love each other? Christian love is unique. It is characterized by,
1. a sense of family. It is certainly true that we should never refer to the church as they it should always be we. Our love is anchored in the fact that we are related to each other in Christ.
2. seeing another person not for who they are . . . but for who they can be by God's Spirit. We understand how radically God can change a life. We should never write another off as one who "will never change" because we ought to know better. We know what God can do because He has begun that process in us.
3. by a desire for the good and spiritual happiness of the other. This is different from the way of the world. In the world we "love others" because we think they can be good for us or because they make us happy. I know it sounds harsh, but I still believe it is true. I see remnants of this attitude in my own life. We use people. We see people in terms of what they can do for us. We love them if they do what we want. We discard them if they don't. Christian love desires the benefit of the other person. It is concerned with building up the other not ourselves.
4. a genuine delight from being with each other. Christian love means we enjoy being together. That's why it is so delightful to come into a church and hear laughter. Worship should not be drudgery, onerous prayers and false piety. It is a time to do something special (exalt God) with our friends. When a group of friends get together there is talking, laughter and joy.
5. an overlooking of faults and infirmities. It's not that we minimize these things. Christian love understands that we are all sinners in the process of being transformed. So, we do not focus on the sin and failure. We focus on the progress and growth. People who love each other dwell on the admirable and praiseworthy not the blemishes and struggles. Unfortunately, in many churches the members are much less patient with each other than they are with their friends who are not Christians. This is because they have become focused on the outward appearance and on making certain behaviors more important than others. They have lost sight of their original goal.
6. a love that is without barrier. Our love for each other is based in something much deeper than our economic class, gender, race, age or any other category of men. Our love is anchored in our common experience of grace and our common destiny of eternity worshiping God.
Obviously we realize that we are a long way from achieving this goal perfectly. We are still prone to pettiness and competition. But the true believer is moving toward this goal of Christ-like love. They want to love this way. They are learning to love this way. They delight when they love this way. Every morning I try to begin my day with a conversation with God. The first thing I ask is that God help me love deeper and more fully today than yesterday. When I pray for others and when I act in love toward others, my physical symptoms recede and at least for a while I have freedom from this thorn in my flesh.Hope is the true source of all God's power in us
Once again, we see that this "faith and love spring from hope". In Paul's letter to Titus he writes about "a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior." (Titus 1:2)
Peter also talks about the significance of hope, "In his great mercy he had given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 3b – 5)
We hear the word "hope" used frequently. We "hope" for a good report. We "hope" to be able to reach some goal. We "hope" for the best. Most of the time we seem to use "hope" like making wishes. It's a "pie-in-the-sky" optimism. But that is not what this hope is about. The hope that Peter and Paul point to is different.
It's a hope based in fact. We are not engaging in mere positive thinking. Our hope is grounded in the promises of a real man, Jesus. We believe He went to the cross willingly and rose from the dead victoriously. We base our hope on God's testimony and revelation over the years.
It is a hope that is undiminished by difficulties. The Bible tells us the truth about life. It doesn't promise things will be easy. In fact, it tells us that this world and everything in it is going to pass away. It tells us that the world in which we live is infected with a cancer that is more deadly than the most devastating cancer we know. It's a cancer called sin. Our hope is not anchored in present circumstances but in a promise for the future. It is this hope of eternity that keeps us going through the rough times of our lives. Our hope is one that changes the way we face the trials and tragedies of life.
It is a hope that alters the way we live. Our hope is for the day when we will stand before the Lord and hear those wonderful words, "Welcome Home." We look for the day when this world will be cast aside. And because our sights are set on heaven our response to the annoyances, obstacles and disappointments of this world is changed.
A child of God is called to look beyond this world to the next. It is natural to care for our body. It is appropriate to be concerned for our families. We are right to want to live this life to the fullest. But if our primary concern is with this life we have our priorities confused. Why give so much priority to that which is temporary and give so little attention to our soul, which is eternal? Shouldn't it be the other way around?
And what about in the times of difficulty? Many of you have let me into your lives. I know some of the struggles and the difficulties you wrestle with and you certainly know mine. This life is not easy. Sometimes it's not even all that enjoyable. But here's the question you and I have to ask: in these times, do we dwell on the difficulties or do we dwell on the One who will someday wipe our tears, heal our wounds and put our weary hearts to rest? Do we dwell on the struggle or the sure victory? Do we dwell on the trial or on the promise that God will use the trial? A true hope changes our perspective on everything.
It is certainly possible that some of you may feel at the "end of your rope" as you read this. My church has certainly seen the efforts of Satan to destroy the promise of Sylvan Oaks’ future ministries, as well as the ministries of today. You may be exhausted, worn out, tired of the battle. Perhaps you can't sleep because you can't stop your mind and your racing heart. You examine all the possibilities. You've considered all the "what ifs?" The uncertainty of the future overwhelms you. To those in this state I urge you to change your focus. Look up. Look into His face. Replay His promises. Know that the future is in His hands. Remind yourself over and over and over again that He is sufficient for whatever comes your way. His promise is sure. This life is just an imitation leather jaket for the life that is to come and made of the most special materials and custome fit for you personally by God.. Turn your eyes to His sufficiency and grace rather than the obstacles of the Devil. Make hope your anchor and it will hold you steady in even the most troublesome waters.
So, there you have it. The simple definition of a genuine follower of Christ. It's not who holds a certain theological position or has had a certain experience. It has nothing to do with the amount of water that is used in baptism or even it's timing. It is not about the frequency of the Lord's Supper. It is not a matter of style or worship or version of the Bible you read. The issue is really much more basic than that. A genuine believer is one who trusts God rather than himself; and shows faith by the way they treat those around them. And they do all this because of the hope that burns in their soul. It is a hope that is anchored in the promises of God. And when faith, hope, and love are at work in a follower's life ----the other things will take care of themselves